The Franklin High School women's tennis team ended their season with an 8-6 record under new coach Heather Bell. It wasn't too long ago that Bell herself was playing on the local courts for FHS and at Milligan College. She also had the opportunity to coach alongside her predecessors before taking the role of head coach of this year's team.
“I was an assistant for both the girls' and guys' teams here at FHS for the past few years so I learned a lot under the leadership of Sammy Gunter and Rick Blanton,” said Bell. “Both of them helped mentor me to coach a high school team. Playing college tennis helped to prepare me skill wise and to have a lot of drills and exercises to fall back on.”
The team had six returning players from the previous season, three of whom consistently competed in the top six and a couple more who competed just outside of it. An additional seven players joined the team including Anni Neiss— a German exchange student who ended the regular season with an undefeated record of 16-0 in conference play and 18-0 overall.
"Anni is likely the best female tennis player to come through Franklin," said Bell. "She is by far one of the most entertaining players to watch compete in the sport."
On Oct. 10, Neiss competed at the Western North Carolina Athletic Conference 2-A tennis tournament. She proved to be flawless in the tournament when she won the whole thing without losing a single set.
She then attended the Regional Tournament held at Gardner Webb University last Friday and Saturday where she won her first round with a score of 6-1; 6-0 and her second round 6-0; 6- 1. She lost in the semifinals against the eventual Regional Champion, Cassidy Shell of Bandys High School. As a result of her performance, Neiss becomes the first female singles player to qualify for the State Championships.
"Our region is by far the strongest with two state defending champions in the draw and Cassidy Shell who beat last years 2- A State Champion in the finals," said Bell. "Anni did very well to compete with these girls and it really shows her ability. As a coach, I am so proud of her accomplishments and wish only the best for her as she competes in the State Championships and even as she returns to Germany continuing her tennis career there."
Aside from the incredible performances by Neiss, the women's tennis team has posted a season that they can be proud of as well.
“We had a conference record of 8-6, losing to Brevard who is a traditionally strong team and they're stacked with seniors; West Henderson, in which we split singles the first time we met them; and Pisgah, a team that is just simply stacked with athletes,” said Bell. “We finished fourth in the 2A/3A conference out of eight teams and second in the 2A division.”
Next year Bell will lose three seniors and Neiss who will return to Germany, but she will take her experiences from her first year as head coach and use them to help her next season.
“There are several things I would like to improve on, not anything drastic but I definitely will be looking to improve certain aspects of my coaching,” she said.
As the season comes to an end, Bell says that it has been a memorable one thanks to the girls that she has had the opportunity to get to know and coach to a winning season.
“It has been a joy to coach these girls this season. They all have a special part of my heart and I am very proud of each of them individually,” said Bell. “They each are very different but it was neat to watch the unity within the team that developed from girls who would normally not have crossed paths.”